Will Big Tobacco Become Big Weed
If you have ever looked into the arguments in favor of legalizing marijuana, you have probably become familiar with a list of commonly cited benefits, such as moving it out of the black market, defunding drug cartels and making the drug an additional source of tax revenue.
The potential downsides of pot legalization, such as increased rates of drug use, are typically shrugged off by cannabis advocates as being minimal and outweighed by the likely benefits.
To listen to these arguments, one would walk away with the idea that legalizing marijuana would be a thoroughly populist thing to do, an action that would take the violence and money out of the pot industry and put a benign “herb” into the hands of the people.
Setting aside the debates over these issues and dropping any attempt to defend the stance to keep the drug illegal, there is another facet to the argument which you will almost never hear. There is another likely consequence of the widespread legalization of marijuana, one which would probably have such a major effect as to entirely shape the post-legalization landscape and in the process define the result of any decision to make cannabis legal.
If the movement in favor of legalizing marijuana picks up enough support that we at some point see widespread legalization of the drug in the United States on the state and federal levels, there is a very good chance that Big Tobacco would get involved. Growing pot is not any great leap from growing tobacco, and to a large degree the same facilities and equipment could be used for processing, packaging, transporting and marketing marijuana cigarettes
The nation’s major tobacco companies would be able to relatively easily move into the legalized cannabis industry, and if they did so we could expect to see marijuana become a major corporate product. As widespread as the drug is now, imagine what would happen if it was being pushed by large tobacco companies which currently spend in the range of $10 billion annually in advertising. The result would almost certainly be dramatically different from the picture painted by most people who argue in favor of legalizing marijuana. Cannabis would become a major commodity, a lucrative market that would be worked for all it is worth, and the outcome would almost certainly be much higher rates of drug use in the U.S.
Are the Tobacco Companies Planning to Sell Marijuana?
All of this is not merely conjecture. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times from earlier this month, Big Tobacco not only might consider getting into the marijuana industry, but they already have. Documents which were recently uncovered in the archives at UC San Francisco have revealed that some of the largest companies in the tobacco industry actively investigated breaking into the marijuana market in the late 1960s and into the early 1970s. This was no casual thought on their part; they were serious about weighing the benefits and risks of the matter, and thankfully they decided against it. Will they move forward on these plans in the future?
A spokesman for the parent company of cigarette maker Philip Morris is quoted in the Times piece as saying that his company has no intention to do anything with marijuana, but this statement could easily be false; the same things were being said by the tobacco companies at the time of the investigations. Big Tobacco has a poor record on honesty, and one can ask why we should trust their current denials of any intention to start producing and selling pot. The major lesson here is that the consequences of making cannabis legal could be orders of magnitude greater than what most people suppose they would be.